Continuing the explanation of the first verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, from the words janmādy asya yataḥ:
These words echo exactly the second sūtra of the Vedānta, which states a basic definition of the Supreme Truth. In Śrīdhara Svāmī’s opinion, this is a secondary, or taṭa-stha, definition. That is, it describes only a less important feature of the Supreme: His involvement in the creation, maintenance, and destruction of this inferior, temporary world. But toward the end of this first verse, the Supreme will be characterized more in terms of His essential qualities.
Śrīla Jīva explains janmādy asya yataḥ: The phrase means “from which comes the birth and so on of this universe, by His inconceivable energy, and by Himself as both the ingredients and the active agent of creation.” Asya (“of this”) indicates “of this visible world.” This world contains countless doers and enjoyers, from Lord Brahmā down to the blades of grass. The universe supplies the results of every soul’s endeavors in fixed accordance with place, time, and motivation. And it is full of inconceivably wonderful constructions of all varieties. The logical connection with the main idea of this verse is “Let us meditate on that Supreme from whom all this comes.”
The cause of such a visible world must be someone who has all potencies, who can obtain whatever He wants, and who knows everything. As the Supreme, He must have a perfect personality, free from all inferior qualities and full in all desirable assets of knowledge. Thus He is a possessor of qualities.
Qualities are a kind of potency, and potencies are found in three categories: material, spiritual, and marginal. The material potency, called Māyā, is the immediate cause of the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the material universe. The marginal potency is implied in this verse by the verb at the end, dhīmahi, “let us meditate.” The Personality of Godhead, Bhagavān, is the Supreme. The material creation arises from the Puruṣa, Mahā-viṣṇu, when He takes charge of Prakṛti, the ingredient cause of creation. But the original Godhead is the ultimate cause. The living entities sent into creation in the glance of Mahā-viṣṇu are actually creatures of the original Personality of Godhead, just as a creature born in one corner of the ocean is correctly said to be born from the ocean.
Since the Supreme is the cause of creation, He must have a visible form. That the visible world is full of visible potencies implies that its supreme cause incorporates unlimited visible but perfect potencies. Thus He has a visible form – none other than the personal forms of Bhagavān, such as Viṣṇu and Nārāyaṇa.
Śrīla Jīva says that the words anvayād itarataś cārtheṣu explain how the Supreme Lord is both the cause of the creation of the universe and of all other material processes. He is present (anvaya) in everything that has been created – the ether and all other elements – and He is otherwise (itaratas), or in other words, absent, from whatever is not a real product of creation, like a flower growing in the sky or a barren woman’s son. In this reading, artheṣu means “in all things, real and unreal.”
Or we can take anvayāt and itaratas in another sense – that He both pervades and is separate from, and artheṣu in the sense of “in all things, both cause and effect.” As the real cause, He pervades the creation, as clay and gold pervade the pots and jewelry produced from them. The effect, the created universe, is separate from Him in the way a clay pot or gold ring exists separately from the raw material from which it was made and also separately from other products of the same material. Thus it is not, as some philosophers propose, that this world has no real substance or that it is real but was created out of nothing.
“Then,” it might be asked, “doesn’t material nature fit this description of the all-pervading cause of existence? Shouldn’t we meditate on nature as the Supreme?” No. The Supreme is abhijña, all-knowing, while matter has no consciousness. The śruti-mantra of the Aitareya Upaniṣad (1.1.1) describes Mahā-viṣṇu’s glancing over material nature. Sa īkṣata lokān nu sṛjā iti, sa imān lokān asṛjata: “He looked and said, ‘Let Me create worlds.’ And thus He created these worlds.” As is argued in the Vedānta-sūtras (1.1.4), the cause of creation described in these words of the Upaniṣad cannot be unconscious matter, which is incapable of glancing.
But can’t some specially powerful finite soul have created everything? Shouldn’t we meditate on the jīva as having such potential? No, the real Supreme is svarāṭ, totally independent in knowing everything. Finite souls only know what God and their material conditioning allow them to know.
Living beings are superior to matter because they have consciousness. Human beings are more intelligent and capable of meaningful action than animals, and demigods and sages are superior in these ways to most human beings. Brahmā is the most intelligent and creative of all the demigods. But the intelligence and abilities of pure devotees of the Supreme Lord are superior to those of superhuman beings who lack pure devotion. Finally, there is one supreme living being who knows everything and can do everything, as described in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (5.13): nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānāṁ / eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān. “There is one eternal living being among all the eternal living beings who alone fulfills the desires and needs of all the others.” Whatever knowledge and ability anyone else has has been bestowed by Him. He is the source of all life and matter, as a mine of gold is the source for many gold objects.
The discussion of this verse continues in the next session.